Asian American · Writing Memoir

Half Thai, lôok krêung, ลูกครึ่ง

Cuenca, Ecuador, 2010
Cuenca, Ecuador, 2010

I am half Thai, lôok krêung, ลูกครึ่ง and I suspect there are many of us half-breeds running around. It’s a noncount noun thing. To the western mind this term is considered almost insulting, to the other half it’s considered insulting, almost. To my mind, it’s a curious splinter dividing my dance card with identity.

When I moved to the Mainland, (as us locals call it, Islanders refer to the Continental US as such), I received a happy myriad of reactions regarding being from Hawaii. Since people would Ohhh and Ahhh I started to see beyond my foamy shores to get a blue-green glimpse of a whiter side of pride.

This perspective has kaleidoscoped Hawaii as the vacation destination that the airlines billed it to be. Exotic, different, special, tanned, fruity, beautiful, friendly, and cultural in a hedonistic, as tropical goes, kind of way.

It’s funny, I see Hawaii in Thailand. I see familiar vegetation and a touristic voyeurism that stays open 7-11. I hear broken English, or pidgin, and drive by men with their shirts pulled up over their bellies, as if this very act could cool them off. I see ouchie sunburns and Tha Phae Gate as an international Waikiki promenade.

In Hawaii, lôok krêungs are called hapas. This also means “half” but it isn’t insulting so much as simply an ethnic statement. I would never be called hapa though, I don’t look mixed. A technicality. Originally meant for Hawaiians and now used for Caucasian and Asian mixed drinks, I mean, races.

In Hawaii, after the question, What (high) school did you go to? the question, What are you? is the next question sure to follow. So, at a young age I knew what I was, and what everyone else was. I learned there was a hierarchy. And I learned there were exciting variations to people’s ethnic makeup.

I also learned that everyone was a little (an eighth, or ¼) Hawaiian because it was considered cool (not unlike being Native American or Cherokee).

And even though people now find my half-Thai, half-Chinese, and a little bit of Russian, oh so fascinating, it wasn’t that way growing up. Thai wasn’t one of the recognized Asian food groups.

Plus, I identified with my father growing up. Or at least I wanted to identify with him because of my classic Chinese looks. You see, I had it up to here with my mom’s Thai magazines, “music”, religion, friends, and parties. I was a tourist in my own home.

I think that is why folks see me as American Asian rather than the other way around. Although, I got to say, the way you are raised influences you in unseen and insidious ways. Not unlike when we say, “I’m turning into my mother” or “I must have gotten that from my father”. Usually I am quiet on the matter of Asian-ness, being more ethnic (whatever that means) is not something I feel the need to defend.

I mean if language was the only or primary factor then all the foreigners who knew Thai would be considered Thai. Maybe if I rocked that Tinglish accent then that would make me seem more ethnic. Then again my students identify me as Hawaiian. They take pleasure in sharing their knowledge of the Islands with me. One of my Thai neighbors greets me with Aloha.

Sometimes I think I’ll never fit in anywhere. I’m not entirely sure that I want to. There are moments though in which I do slide into the mold depending on the Technicolor picture. It’s an anthropological field report and a writer’s dream. It’s a people-watching parade and tourists taking my picture. It’s an identity free-for-all, wrestling match, spin-the-bottle game where I feel less nationalistic, less Chinese and less Thai with each clock ticking time.

And more like me.

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6 thoughts on “Half Thai, lôok krêung, ลูกครึ่ง

  1. “What are you?” Its as certain as death and taxes. People ask this because it allows them to figure out your perceived behavior based on their perceived notions.”Ahhh, you're part Thai. That explains why you love to eat spicy hot food!””I thought you were part Irish! Is that why you love to drink so much?””You're mother was German? You're probably a very industrious and efficient worker!”Our worldviews are still, sadly, based on a nationalist frame of understanding that we as individuals keep perpetuating.

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  2. Curious. When I first read your post I missed 'half breed' and went straight to wondering about the “to the western mind this term is considered almost insulting” part. I love faces (comes from my former wannabe portrait artist days). And to me, those from mixed races are far more interesting and usually garners a mental point from me: mixed race = wanna paint/draw/photograph = a plus aboveReading the second time, I did pick up on the 'half breed' but I thought it was mainly aimed at those having an American Indian and European mix? (Darn. Even the word 'aimed' seems ominous said like that!)Hawaii didn't come into the US until way past cowboy days when it was slung around as a slur, so they resurrected it? Or did it never really die out of use?Too many questions?”Sometimes I think I'll never fit in anywhere”Spoken like a true lifelong expat 🙂

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  3. That's a good question. I'm not sure how the word hapa was used 50-100 years ago or so. I'm sure the Hawaiian language has seen quiet and revival times.Technically I think when we think of “half Thai” we think of Caucasian mixes but lately my half Thai-ness has been pointed out so it just got me thinking about it.Yeah, I'm slow. Plus, I do love to play with words.Spoken like a true expat, eh? 😛

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  4. My son is beginning to notice that he is different from his friends. He hears people refer to him as a luk kreung and to me as a farang all the time. I don't mind so much and I hope he won't either when he realizes what’s going on. Most Thais don’t use these terms as insults.

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  5. I know, with “minority” cultures, these terms are really points of interests and curiosities. But I know folks who don't like the word farang and those who turn it around and use it in an insulting way.I wrote about this because it has come up recently and whenever something is topical I find it makes me want to write about it. In your son's case, I think it will just make him more aware of differences and similarities. A book could be written about this!

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